Android accessories that you leave at home

Last week I talked about a few Android accessories that you can take with you when you head out of town. This week: accessories for your Android device that you…well, leave back at home or at the office.

Dropcam / Dropcam Pro

If you’re the type of person who travels on business a lot, security is undoubtedly a concern – if there’s no one around to keep an eye on the office or the old homestead, it can be a little unsettling.

Just released into the Canadian marketplace this past week, Dropcam is one potential way to put your mind at ease. The original Dropcam is a Wi-Fi-connected camera that can stream 720p video into the cloud, and then back down to a computer or mobile device, like your Android phone or tablet. The newly-released Dropcam Pro bumps the res up to 1080p, increases the field of view from 108 to 130 degrees, and includes 8x digital zoom (up from 4x). Both cameras include infrared, so you can see quite well in the dark; the Pro’s image clarity in the dark is much improved.

What makes Dropcam more than just a peep-cam into your workspace or home (other devices have previously allowed you to keep an eye on the cat and/or janitor, after all) is the camera’s ability to sense motion and push snippets of video up to the cloud for later review, if you opt for the Cloud Recording service. (At $99 a month for 7 full days of footage, and $299 for 30 full days, it’s not cheap, but the piece of mind that offsite backup of security footage provides may well be worth it.)

Dropcam also gives you the ability to talk back through the camera, if you want to chat with someone in the monitored room – like, say, your kids, your employees…or a potential thief – using the built in speaker. So in addition to monitoring capabilities, it provides a small amount of telepresence. Worth noting, though: there can be a bit of delay of the video stream across the Internet, so it means you may be a number of seconds out of sync, unfortunately. Such is the net.

Once you have the camera set up in your home or office – it takes a minute or two to set up using a USB connection to a computer – you can download the app and stream directly to your mobile devices, wherever you happen to be.

Belkin WeMo

In the past, whenever I left the house for a few days, I’d set up one of those old school mechanical lamp timers that would turn lights on and off at different times of the day. That way, anyone casually checking out the house would think we were inside the house, living our life as normal.

Belkin’s WeMo is a more modern equivalent, and is available in a few different varieties, all of which connect to your WiFi network so you can control them from anywhere in the world, at any time.  And unlike those old school timers, the WeMo comes in a few different varieties.

Yes, one of them is a brick-shaped device that sits between your electrical outlet and a lamp (or other electric-powered device). But if you’re willing to do a bit of electrical work, there’s also a WeMo device that actually replaces a hard-wired light switch, allowing you to control the main overhead lights, too. There’s also a motion sensor option, which allows you to turn on one of your other WeMo devices when something is moving in the vicinity.

Unlike the old-school timers, which often used mechanical switches or very simplistic electronic on/off rules, the WeMo devices can be configured from your Android phone or tablet, and can be programmed with a series of rules that aren’t quite as rigid.

For example, you can set on and off times to correlate with sunrise and sunset in your geographic location. You can program your motion sensor to only activate other switches between certain periods, so it’s not triggering every single time you walk past. And of course, you can readjust settings from your Android device, even if you’re across the country.

By default, WeMo is programmed so devices outside your network can’t gain access to your lighting controls, so if you’re concerned about security you can leave it that way. If you want full control while you’re on the road, a quick tweak in the settings will set it up so you can control the lights from afar.

One quirk I’ve noticed about the WeMo devices is that they’re sensitive to interference. At first, I put the hardwired light switch into my kitchen outlet but became annoyed when the lights switched themselves off whenever we fired up the microwave, and wouldn’t switch on again until well after the microwave had stopped. So be warned: it’s best to locate your WeMo devices in areas where you’ll get a strong signal to your wireless router, without other interference-generating devices nearby.

Again, you’ll need to grab the app from Google Play, and then you can start configuring your outlets or lights to obey your commands…even if you’re just too lazy to get up off the couch to turn off the kitchen light.





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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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